Thursday, October 28, 2010

CVGS Program Review - Alfredo Pena's "Exodus"

The October 27th program meeting of the Chula Vista Genealogical Society featured Alfredo I. Pena's talk on "Exodus:  The Reasons for the Massive Immigration from Mexico to the U.S.”  Mr. Pena's CV was posted here.

This presentation was more about Mexican history since the 1910 Revolution against the Porfirio Diaz dictatorship than about genealogy.  Alfredo's theme was that there were a series of events in Mexico that encouraged migration of Mexican citizens to the United States.  He described the leaders of the 1910 Revolution (Zapata, Madero, Villa) and some of the ensuing Presidents of Mexico.  The Cristero War between 1926 and 1929 was caused by enforcement of the anti-clerical laws imposed by the 1917 Constitution and resulted in persecution of Catholic priests and adherents.  Some of his relatives were involved in the Cristero War and came to El Paso, Texas.

Mexican farm labor was welcomed in the U.S. until the Great Depression, which started in 1929.  A wave of anti-immigration sentiment arose as jobs became scarce, and legal immigration fell sharply and hundreds of thousands of Mexicans were repatriated.  As World War II started, American farms needed laborers and the Bracero program was started for Mexican farm laborers and railroad workers to work under contract, receive housing and minimum wages.  The Bracero program ended in about 1960.  During the later years of the Bracero program, and afterwards, Mexican citizens came across the border legally with visas, although the numbers were restricted.  Others migrated illegally to work and live in the U.S. because there were  employment opportunities.

Mr. Pena noted that finding records of Mexican migrants in this time period is difficult.  The most promising source is family records in your home or the homes of your family - he showed several immigration cards and passes provided by the U.S. Department of Labor in the 1920s.  There may be online databases on and (e.g., the 1930 Mexico census) that can provide more information about migrants.

He also noted that Mexican citizens usually married twice after 1867 - once civilly, then in a religious ceremony.  The civil records can be accessed, but access to church records in the parishes can be difficult. 

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